New Zealanders find common ground in Burke County

Thursday, May 2, 2013 3:54 PM
Last updated Friday, May 3, 2013 1:01 AM
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GIRARD, Ga. — New Zealander Richard Watson had the unusual pleasure Thursday of sharing his Burke County farm with visitors from home.

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Farmers from New Zealand and elsewhere gather in a cow pasture near Girard, Ga., to learn more about dairy farming from New Zealand native and farmer Richard Watson and Dennis Hancock of the University of Georgia.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Farmers from New Zealand and elsewhere gather in a cow pasture near Girard, Ga., to learn more about dairy farming from New Zealand native and farmer Richard Watson and Dennis Hancock of the University of Georgia.

“We bought this property in 2007, and here currently, we’re milking 560 cows,” he told fellow Kiwis who are visiting Georgia this week to share and develop agricultural technology.

The group, representing about a dozen agritech firms, is eager to cultivate markets, said James Wilde, the business development manager for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

“New Zealand has a very particular way of doing agriculture,” he said. “It’s all about grazing and pasturelands, and the best technology for doing that.”

The nation’s high land prices increase the demand for the best technology to make farming successful.

“It’s all about efficiency and profitability – you want to have lower input costs and higher production,” he said.

Georgia and the southeast U.S. offer opportunities to share technology and improve production.

The opportunity to visit Watson, whose dairy and pastureland experience spans both countries, was a great place to start. “You have to have the farmers’ input,” Wilde said.

Although dairy farming in Georgia has differences from New Zealand, the opportunities here are substantial, Watson told the group.

“The environment, the geoclimate and the fundamentals were very compelling,” he said. “Any New Zealander coming here gets really excited.”

The southeast U.S., he said, is not producing enough milk to sustain the region’s growing population.

“Right now they are importing 400 million pounds from the Midwest,” Watson said.

The visitors’ companies include equipment makers, seed producers and firms involved in consulting, milking and even livestock identification tag systems.

“This visit presents a lot of opportunities for sharing world class technology,” said Dennis Hancock, an assistant professor for University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service, which sponsored the tour, along with New Zealand and Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness Innovation.

“The Southeast is very much on the map,” Hancock said. “This is in the top three of regions they want to explore.”

Gavin Porter, the chief executive officer of Baker No-Tillage, which develops systems for planting and fertilizing seed for maximum efficiency, flew into Kansas City on other business last week and decided to drive the rest of the way to Augusta, where the New Zealand visit was based.

“This is the first time I’ve been to this part of the world,” Porter said. “Seeing all the trees, and some of the farming systems we have here, has got me excited. There are a lot of similar opportunities to what we have in New Zealand.”

The group’s tour also featured presentations in Waynesboro, Ga., from economic development and agriculture officials and a meeting with U.S. Rep. John Barrow and other elected officials.

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Riverman1 05/02/13 - 09:08 pm
That's the opportunity

That's the opportunity America provides. We have so much. Energetic, ambitious people like Mr. Watson understand our potential. We need more New Zealanders to immigrate here and strengthen the nation.

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